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British Experts Say Ground Combat in Afghanistan Imminent - 2001-10-11

Military experts in Britain say ground combat in Afghanistan appears imminent in the next phase of the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

At London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, experts are closely following the campaign against terrorist and military targets in Afghanistan.

The director of the center, John Chipman, says small groups of British special forces are already in Afghanistan, and he says French commandos are working with the opposition Northern Alliance there.

Gary Samore who until recently served on the U.S. National Security Council, says American special forces also are gearing up for commando raids into Afghanistan.

However, Mr. Samore does not expect a major U.S combat role. "I think most of the ground activity is going to involve Afghan forces," he said. "So my guess is that the next phase of this campaign will focus on fighting within Afghanistan among the various elements of the opposition and the Taleban."

Besides the military campaign, the London-based analysts are watching for possible instability in Pakistan, where more than two million Afghan refugees live.

Mr. Samore says Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has strengthened his hold on the military this week by removing some pro-Taleban generals. However, Mr. Samore says General Musharraf's public support remains in doubt. "A big test will come on Friday, especially if at some of the mosques there's a call for larger demonstrations," he said. "That will be a very important point to see to what extent he still has the public behind him."

Another subject of discussion among the experts is the challenge of how Afghanistan is governed, when and if the ruling Taleban are ousted. The director of the institute, John Chipman, says it will be a mistake not to include Pashtun's, who make up Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. "I think it is important to find a multiethnic government in Kabul and the Northern Alliance is woefully weak in a Pashtun element," said John Chipman. "Sooner rather than later, the British and the Americans will have to pay more attention to quite how this process happens and not rely on it just happening fortuitously."

As for suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, the experts say the hunt for him is like finding a needle in a haystack. However, they say that even if he is not caught or killed, it is hoped that he will find it extremely difficult to operate in the future.